Abdominal obesity has reached near-epidemic levels in America. Just over 54 percent of the U.S. population now has abdominal obesity, which is up from 46.4 percent around the turn of the millennium. The average American’s waist size now measures 38.8 inches. Besides simple cosmetic issues, though, too much belly fat comes with the risk of more serious health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and early death.
Factors that contribute to an expanding waistline often include stress, poor sleep habits, hormonal imbalances and certain medications. Of course, the biggest factors usually involve poor diet and lack of exercise. Unfortunately, diet soda, intended to be a healthier alternative to a very unhealthy product, may actually be contributing to the epidemic of belly fat in older adults.
More Diet Soda, More Belly Fat
Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio analyzed health information submitted by 749 Americans over a period of nearly 10 years. All study participants were over the age of 65. Researchers noted several different lifestyle habits and measurements of each person, including exercise routines, diet, weight, height and waist circumference. Researchers then adjusted data considering variables such as age, physical activity and smoking habits to get the most accurate correlation possible. When the study was complete, the gathered data was actually pretty surprising:
- The waistlines of people who drank no diet soda at all increased by 0.8 inches.
- The waistlines of people who drank diet soda occasionally grew by 1.83 inches.
- The waislines of daily diet soda drinkers increased by 3.16 inches.
The results are troubling because belly fat can be more dangerous than fat in other areas of the body. Known as visceral fat, belly fat can lead to inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and again, type 2 diabetes. It’s also slightly more difficult to get rid of.
Diet Soda Might Not Be the Culprit
This study demonstrates a link between diet soda and belly fat, but it might not represent causation. While it’s long been thought that artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain, scientists haven’t definitively proven this to be true. Instead, it’s possible that drinking a diet version of a product allows people to feel as if eating extra calories from other sources will do less harm. It’s also possible that diet soda drinkers have bigger waistlines because they were gaining weight anyway and made the decision to try diet products. Lastly, diet soda is often consumed along with less healthy items such as fast food and pizza, which could be causing the majority of the weight gain.
Diet Soda and Belly Fat: The Bottom Line
If you’re gaining weight in your midsection and also drink diet soda, this study suggests that cutting down on soda altogether may be your best bet. If you actively want to cut down on your waistline, consider just how much exercise it takes to counteract the effects of one soft drink. Then you’ll want to develop a diet and exercise plan that includes both cardio and light weightlifting.